In Alaska, cell phone service is limited to populated spots
In Alaska, cell phones only work a couple of miles outside the outskirts of communities. When you drive the haul way, an unpaved highway, up to Deadhorse, for instance, you drive stretches more than 100 miles without any access to the cell phone network. Satellite phones work, but not very well.
Communication by word-of-mouth in daily life
Thus, it is no surprise that some communication still goes by word-of-mouth. For instance, assume there is a long stretch of road construction and one cannot see the other end. Then the flagman, who stops the traffic, gives the driver of the first car in line an estimate of the wait. This driver will shut off their engine, walk to the car behind, and communicate the time to the driver. This person will do the same, and the message carries on down the line in this fashion.
Conveying information by word-of-mouth is still It among baby-boomers
Let’s assume one of the Fairbanks stores that sell – among other things – apparel, gets a load of new clothes. Then young fashionistas pass the word on to their BFF by text. Generation X fashionistas use the phone. Alaskan baby-boomers spread the news face-to-face by word-of-mouth. Once you get the good news, you immediately drive to the store when you are interested in the type of clothes. You know that the face-to-face information is already at least 20 minutes old or so. You get to any store in town in about 10 to 15 minutes. You also know that there are many fashionistas out there who have heard the great news since the store opened its doors.
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Remembrance of the Eastern World
You say that sounds like East Germany before or right after the unification of the German states. Yes, sort off. When I lived in Leipzig in the 90s, I once waited until after work, when in the morning, a colleague had said store XYZ has abc. Of course, abc was sold out. After that event, I always hurried to the store immediately when getting information about abc at XYZ. Here in Fairbanks, it’s the same.
You can get nearly everything in town, but you must be fast. You also must buy whatever brand and color is available. And you are happy they have it in our size at all. It feels like a lottery win when you find out Sam’s Club sells Anne Klein sweaters. It’s a change to the GNW sweaters that are easy to get in town. Is there a reason why nearly every fashionista in town has a Coach brand logo fabric bag? Yes, of course! You could buy them in town. And yes, there will be a run to the store that announces on a board on the curb that they got in 10 Kate Spade bags or 1 genuine leather Coach bag.
How Alaskans use word-by-mouth for advertisement
Tourism is a big economic branch in town. Most restaurants and bars in town offer free WiFi to the guests. The tourists are eager to post their selfies, wildlife they encountered, the faces they made on their wild-water rafting trip, the poor giant halibut from their fishing trip or who knows what kind of photos from their Alaska adventure. Giving the guests access is communicating the beauty of Alaska to other future tourists. These future tourists may turn customers, who again will communicate their adventures to their friends, and so on. Advertisement the modern way by using the old-fashioned Alaska communication by word-of-mouth.
Students rely on word-of-mouth for housing
In Alaska, land-lords can offer housing without running water. These dry cabins are very attractive for students due to the low rent. When a student moves out of a cabin with WiFi, but no running water, the search for a new renter is by word-of-mouth and via flyers posted on boards on campus and coffee houses.
Alaska e-communication is vulnerable
A reason why word-of-mouth communication still plays an important role, it the vulnerability of Alaska communication via the internet. There is only one pipe between Alaska and the Lower 48s. Two weeks ago or so, a high-speed fiber line down between Seattle and Portland was damaged. This communication again was by word-of-mouth. Due to the damage, Fairbanks was cut off from the World Wide Web. Only the local internet worked.
A couple of years ago, I was in Colorado for a work meeting. On the first day of the meeting, I logged into the supercomputer in Fairbanks. The line was very, very slow. The next two days, when I wanted to log in via the internet, I couldn’t get in at all. When I came back home, I was told – yes, the old-fashioned face-to-face communication – the following story.
Rail-road construction workers had accidentally cut the line, which is buried along the Parks Highway, somewhere between Fairbanks and Anchorage. Then all internet communications from Fairbanks to the Lower 48s went thru the line along the Glennallen Highway for a day. Then a big thunderstorm caused a flash-flood. The creek turned into a wide river that surfaced and interrupted the lines along that route. Fairbanks was cut off all internet communication except that in town.
Bandwidth is still a communication bottleneck
The line between Alaska and the Lower 48s is also a bottleneck, when it comes to transfer of huge amounts of data. Many of my colleagues perform their computer simulations of earthquakes, tsunami, volcanic eruptions or whatever events on the local high-performance computing cluster. It’s slower than the speed their models could reach on the supercomputers at the national research labs. This means they lose time doing the simulation. However, the lost time is much less than the time it would take them to transfer the data for analysis to Fairbanks. Alaska communication is still Last Frontier.
Happy New Year
Signing off for today,
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Photos of me: G. Kramm
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